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An Interview With Charlie Bernier, ECBM's President

Posted by ecbmadmin on Mar 24, 2016 3:08:41 PM

ECBM's President Charlie Bernier discusses with Executive Leaders Radio host Herb Cohen how his family and upbringing influences his outlook, sense of responsibility, and ECBM's core values.


Listen to the interview

Herb: We're back, you're listening to Executive Leaders Radio. This is your host, Herb Cohen. With my co-host Jeff Mack from Knight Frank. And we'd like to introduce Charlie Bernier. Charlie is the President of ECBM. Charlie, what is ECBM? What do you guys do?
Charlie: ECBM is an insurance broker and risk management - primarily outsourced risk management.
Herb: How large or how small's this organization?
Charlie: We're the 75th largest independently owned broker in the country.
Herb: What kind of premiums are you bringing in each year?
Charlie: About 200 million a year.
Herb: How large or how small's the organization?
Charlie: About 80 people. 3 offices.
Herb: And where are you from originally?
Charlie: Grew up in Delaware County. Haven't moved more than 10 miles from where I grew up, which was Aldan, Media. But most of the time Drexon Hill.
Herb: And why and how did you get involved with this organization?
Charlie: Actually I worked for insurance companies for a number of years - 9. And ECBM was one of my brokers, when I was a branch manager for Insurance Company. Insurance Company wanted me to transfer to Indianapolis. And at the time I couldn't really leave the area. So my--
Herb: Why couldn't you leave the area?
Charlie: My dad had passed away in 1980, and I have a younger brother and sister. My - when he did they were 9 and 11. And so, my wife and I kinda became second parents to them.
Herb: Well you chose that, you could've moved away, but you felt this responsibility, huh?
Charlie: Yeah, I think - I sort of got that from my father. My dad was head of security for GE, and was very responsible type of person. He died suddenly, and it was very - at that point I was the oldest, so--
Herb: So you took on the responsibility. You assumed the responsibility. Did somebody tell you to do this, or did you just feel you needed to do that?
Charlie: Well life, as we talked about earlier - it's one day at a time, and it's about getting back and making sure that you get up every day and do what you're supposed to do. And that's part of it, so--
Herb: So you, when your dad passed and your younger siblings were young, you took the role of stepping in?
Charlie: The wife and I did that, yes.
Herb: Oh your wife. Did you have a conversation with your wife about that?
Charlie: No, she has a similar background. We met - last year of high school. Been married 42 years. And just what you do.
Herb: It's just what you do. How's that translate into your business everyday?
Charlie: I think between my dad's work ethic and some things he's taught me over the years - our business is really taking care of other companies. Making sure they stay in business. Their success is ours. So we're very empathetic to what happens. Very focused on them, so--
Herb: So you really feel the sense of responsibility. And how about your Grandparents? Any Grandparents influence you?
Charlie: I grew up actually, my - our house was - extended family was my mom's parents, and actually my mom's brother. So I grew up with all adults. My Grandmother was very much - she was from Ireland. Came over here as a teenager. And I can remember once, falling off a bike - coming in crying, and her answer was, "Stand up. Alright, so you're bleeding. Nothing's falling off, get out and play again." "Okay."
Herb: Charlie, your dad passed - you were 27 I think?
Charlie: I was 27 when he passed away, yes.
Herb: You mention your uncle was a Professor at Penn and lived nearby. What did you learn from your uncle growing up?
Charlie: He not only lived nearby, we shared the same room. So he was--
Jeff: That's close.
Charlie: A second War Vet, and when he came back, he moved back in. Ended up at Penn, and then Delaware, a Doctor of Chemistry. But he - I was about 5 when he moved back in. And it was interesting, 'cause he wanted the room totally dark. I was terrified. So I learned pretty much - stand up and get through it.
Jeff: And be adaptable.
Charlie: And be adaptable.
Herb: This - tell us more about growing up with this tight knit family and Grandma?
Charlie: It was great. I mean, I learned so much from all these people. My Grandfather was a chef all his life, and had his own business. My Grandmother helped him with that. My dad grew up in Boston, moved here after the Navy, after he was discharged, Second World War. And met my mom in the USO. They just had a great work ethic. They - my dad started out working a 42 hour shift at GE, and eventually ended up being head of security.
Herb: This thing, this tightness though. I guess, I guess - how's this effected the business? Do you have a lot of turnover at the business?
Charlie: We don't. Our business is - primarily we test for empathy, and a lot of our people come and stay forever--
Herb: Wait, wait, wait - you test for empathy?
Charlie: We do actually, yes. I think it's very important for our people to really understand their clients, understand the situations they're in, understand that they know their business but don't understand how everything else effects it.
Herb: And it was your idea to test for empathy huh?
Charlie: Yes.
Herb: Why, why?
Charlie: I think it's - very important quality we should have. About giving back.
Herb: Because of this family stuff, this stuff you learnt from the family.
Charlie: Understanding the needs of others.
Herb: Need them.
Jeff: Charlie, you mentioned earlier in the green room that you - at your business, you play some interesting games. If you could tell us about that, and what impact does that have with employees and new customers?
Charlie: We started out - it's a team building process. We do things like the Mardi Gras party. But one of the ones that really took off - we started something called Rock, Paper, Scissors. Which - it was internal - team building process. We represent a lot of insurance companies. The word got out. It started out with our - 80 people internally, and now it's a few hundred people show up. The insurance companies actually send teams with their own uniforms. We have referees. There's an actual international Rock, Paper, Scissors organization in Canada - which I had no idea about. And now we report into that. It's grown. It has a life of it's own.
Jeff: Outside of the game, what impact does that have on your employees today?
Charlie: I think it's - obviously team building. But it also impacts us in a sense that we're interacting with people in a business environment on a daily basis. And this lets them let their hair down, and interact on a social level. They get to know each other.
Jeff: Charlie, it seems like you sort of built a family in your business. Do you work with any of your family members?
Charlie: Actually 2 of my sons, which was great. They circled back in life, and asked to come back into the firm. My middle son is a financial analyst. And he's involved heavily in our benefits practice. My older son is an attorney, and was with Rohan (6:31?) Anderson. Circled back, and came back into the country. He's one of the top cyber people in the country.
Herb: Charlie you mentioned that you had visited Ireland, where one of your Grandmother's lived and was born and so on. How did that feel?
Charlie: It really felt - it kind of gave you a sense of where you came from. I mean the farm was still there. We landed in Shannon airport. What we had was a Baptismal paper. The cabbie knew exactly what town it was. It was only 5 minutes from the airport. And just going back to the original farm. I mean it looked beautiful to us. But when she left, and right before the 1900-- Before, in the late 1880's, during the potato famine - it must have been awful. But I guess it formed who she was.
Herb: What did you get from that experience? What did you bring back personally or through business? What did you pick up from that that you're using nowadays? How did that affect you?
Charlie: I - just other cultures. And then seeing how hard it is. One of the things I - we found - we went to a museum in the port that she left from. And like Ellis Island has a museum about all the immigrants. There's a museum there, and part of it was the fact that they actually had funerals for these young people. Because the family knew they would never see them again, and didn't want them to come back, because it was bad.
Herb: Wait, wait, wait - give me that again. This museum-- They were--
Charlie: There's a museum in Ireland, at the port.
Herb: Yeah.
Charlie: And part of the process, when these young people would leave to immigrate to other countries, was the family - the parents realized they would never see them again. 'Cause you couldn't travel like you can today. And they would actually have funerals. In the sense of, "This is the last time we'll see you. So while this is a party, it's - it's the end for us."
Herb: And what was your thought when you found that out? How did that make you feel? What are you thinking there? We've got problems, it's nothing, you know? Jeff?
Charlie: It’s very emotional
Jeff: You talking about giving back, and you're involved in the community, Charlie - in terms of BLOCS. Tell us what it is and why you do that?
Charlie: BLOCS is the Business Leaders Organization for Catholic Education. We're heavily involved in raising funds through EITC, the investment tax credit - NOIDC. And the whole process is to pay for education for children who can't afford it. So we--
Herb: So you're really into a giving back mode with the organization - you really appreciate your roots where you came from, it sounds like? Yeah it's really--
Charlie: It is really important. BLOCS has done immense fundraising and - to be able to just spread that education. We started out, we had about $500, 000. We've driven that up to about 7 million. And it continued to grow. So I bring it up to all my clients.
Herb: Excellent.
Charlie: It's for a great program.
Herb: What's the website address for ECBM?
Charlie: It's ecbm.com.
Herb: And how about this other organization you're talking about?
Charlie: I don't have the website for you.
Herb: Alright, ecbm.com. We've been speaking with Charlie Bernier. President of ECBM, here on Executive Leaders Radio. Don't forget to visit our website, executiveleadersradio.com. We'll be back in a moment, right after this business spotlight.



More About This Episode Here:

BLOCS http://blocs.org/
Business Leadership Organized for Catholic Schools, BLOCS, is an independent charitable organization supported by companies, firms and foundations of all sizes in the five county Philadelphia region. Since 1980, BLOCS has invested in the lives of tens of thousands of children throughout the Philadelphia area, including some of the poorest neighborhoods in the City.

Executive Leaders Radio http://www.executiveleadersradio.com
Executive Leaders Radio conducts "elite interviews" of prominent CEOs, CFOs, and Presidents focusing on "what makes people tick."


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